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TV review: Derivative 'Partners' breaks ground by being ordinary

The new CBS show, starring Michael Urie and David Krumholtz, shows that gay characters on TV are not a big deal anymore.

September 24, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • David Krumholtz, left, and Michael Urie , star in "Partners."
David Krumholtz, left, and Michael Urie , star in "Partners." (Matt Kennedy, CBS )

"Partners," which premieres Monday on CBS, is impossible to review without comparing it to other shows.

It's "Will & Grace," except the best friends are men. It's "The Odd Couple," except this Felix is gay. In fact, another show, by the same name and sharing, at least for the pilot, director James Burrows and the same time slot, aired in 1995.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, its derivative nature "Partners" is, if not revolutionary, then a monument to the fight: It proves, more than "The New Normal" or even "Modern Family," that being a gay man on TV is no longer a big deal. At least not a big enough deal to serve as the primary story of the show or, unfortunately for CBS, to create any sort of buzz.

"Partners" is simply an old-fashioned meddlesome friendship sitcom, in which Lucy and Ethel are male architects, one of whom is straight, the other gay. Which is not to say that we are witnessing the next "I Love Lucy."

One of the other things "Partners" proves is that "revolutionary" doesn't necessarily mean "great." It's a show born on the bubble; on more than one occasion, co-creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (previously of "Will & Grace") seem to be intentionally curbing their own cleverness in favor of a boob joke or a penis joke.

Still, this is a show decidedly more sweet than salty. Louis (Michael Urie) and Joe (David Krumholtz) are childhood best friends who now work together and try to run each other's love lives. Or rather, Louis tries to run Joe's love life, specifically Joe's relationship with his girlfriend Ali (Sophia Bush).

Despite his wild-eyed brand of narcissistic over-caretaking, Louis' love life consists of "Superman's" Brandon Routh, who plays Wyatt, a nurse and, if the revised pilot is to be believed, a Quaker. His job is to smile fondly at his wayward lover and offer words of dimly lighted wisdom. Fortunately, Routh has the height and gentle gravity (not to mention exquisite dimensions) to pull off what is now the toughest job in any sitcom — the gay straight man.

Bush plays Ali thoroughly modern, unfazed by either Louis' devotion, emotional intrusions or his calculated flights of whimsy. Rounded out by Tracy Vilar as the firm's tough-talking assistant, it's a likable group.

It's difficult not to hope "Partners" survives the season. It's not a bad show, it's just a bit too familiar. Which is why it's important.

The gayness of Louis and Wyatt here means nothing more, or less, than that characters too often relegated to separate tables have been invited to the big one. There, the chicken may sometimes be a bit chewy and the flowers less than perfect, but the more the merrier, and about darn time.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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